Stereo Review (02/1982), Lindsey Buckingham's Subversive "Law and Order"
Stereo Review, February 1982, Volume 47, No. 2
Best of the Month - Stereo Review’s Selection of Recordings of Special Merit
Lindsey Buckingham’s Subversive “Law and Order”
by Steve Simels
Lindsey Buckingham, Fleetwood Mac’s lead guitarist and the man singlehandedly responsible for turning that ineffectual troupe of farm-club English blues musicians into one of the two or three biggest record sellers in the Western world, has done a remarkable thing on his first Asylum album, “Law and Order.” Thumbing his nose at conventional wisdom, Buckingham has committed to vinyl a collection of songs (and fragments of songs) that, in the context of a record business made acutely uncomfortable these days by anything to the left of Kenny Rogers, amount to nothing less than a contemporary version of Walt Whitman’s barbaric yawp (that’s in Leaves of Grass, just in case your undergraduate days are too far behind you). Amazingly, however, because he has such strong pop instincts and because he has such impeccable commercial credentials, Buckingham can have it both ways. He can record music that is far more subversive (and a hell of a lot more fun) than anything the Sex Pistols ever dreamed of and know that it will get played on the radio anyway.
Describing just how Buckingham turns this trick in “Law and Order” is not particularly easy, as you might have guessed. Though it is exceedingly well crafted, it is not slick, it is not designed to spawn a hit single to be sung at weddings, bar mitzvahs, or weenie roasts. It is quirky, occasionally whimsical, often pretty, always original and highly personal – all more or less at the same time. And while it may at first appear as lightweight as any other topical tinsel, there are heavy subtexts lurking beneath the surface glitter. That all this should be the work of a comfortably rich member of the mainstream rock Establishment would be nothing short of astonishing were it not for Fleetwood Mac’s earlier “Tusk,” on which Buckingham was the dominant force. This, in many ways, is the sequel to that much underrated effort, and we should have seen it coming.
What Buckingham has produced in this new album is what Pete Townshend once called “the usual gynormous ego-trip,” which is to say, among other things, that with a couple of minor exceptions he played every single note here. That is not, in itself, any big deal. Lots of people (Townshend, for example) have made very good records that way, and lots of people (Todd Rundgren, anyone?) have made very dull ones. Where Buckingham differs from most of those who have gone the one-man-band route is that he isn’t trying to fool you into thinking you’re listening to five people; this stuff wears its artifice on its sleeve. He wants to make interesting noises, not simulate someone’s idea of a rock band, and that gives the whole thing the subtle – and endearing – cast of crackpottery.
The songs, lyrically sketchy and structurally simple, are deliberate means to an end, vehicles for Buckingham’s goal of confounding our expectations of what pop music should sound like. Their creative juices come from the unconventional arrangements and oddball mixing decisions, from the oddly placed drums, from tinkling toy pianos, from the hyper-emotional singing, from the acoustic instruments that pop up where you expected electric ones, and so forth. Some of them are clearly tongue in cheek, and some may be deadly serious – it’s hard to tell. Trouble, for example, is an extremely attractive, wistful little song that, done straight, would not have been out of place on “Rumours.” Here, however, Buckingham’s absurdly breathy vocals and overdubbed chipmunk chorus make it sound strangely paranoid; he’s probably kidding somebody, but it’s an open question whether it’s himself, Fleetwood Mac, or us. The whole album is like that , including, as a bonus, the strangest-ever version of September Song; Walter Huston is turning in his grave.
In rock-absolutist terms, of course, “Law and Order” is a frivolous piece of work: no great issues are addressed, no appeals are made to heart or to conscience, no fabulous new lifestyle vistas are opened. But it’s an important record nonetheless because it challenges the prevailing pop climate in ways rock’s avant-garde is unwilling or unable to: it communicates actual feelings the average listener can relate to. Yes, it demands that you meet it halfway, but it doesn’t assume that you are one of the blessed converted. I think it’s an extremely entertaining record, and a very brave one as well. Would you like to take any bets on how this sublime whoopee cushion of a disc will sell relative to Stevie Nicks' recent vial of vinyl valium?
Thanks to Les for posting the article to the Ledge.
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